Ben Fowlkes: Fighting or playing? With Silva, the difference isn't always obvious - Sports Illustrated

Fighting or playing? With Silva, the difference isn't always obvious

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Any time UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva steps in the cage, the line between fighting and playing always gets a little blurry. But against former light heavyweight champ Forrest Griffin at UFC 101 in Philadelphia on Saturday, Silva managed to do both at the same time, dwarfing his larger opponent with an awe-inspiring striking display and brilliant defensive maneuvers.

In what was supposed to be a fresh test in a higher weight class, Silva toyed with Griffin from the opening seconds, landing his right hand at will and dropping the former champ several times. Midway through the first the Brazilian no longer bothered to defend his face, simply letting his hands rest near his waist as he implored Griffin to attack.

Griffin complied just over three minutes into the opening frame, charging forward with a lunging assault. Silva dodged each punch and responded with a short right hand almost as an afterthought, but it was enough to put down the beleaguered Griffin for the last time, bringing an end to the bout at 3:23 of round one.

Afterwards Silva praised Griffin, saying ""Forrest is a good guy. He's a good fighter. He's a good man."

Griffin was long gone by that point, however. As soon as he was capable of getting back to his feet following the final knockdown, he charged out of the Octagon and nearly ran back to the locker room, clearly disappointed with his performance.

But the way Silva fought on Saturday night there are very few fighters in any weight class who wouldn't have appeared similarly outclassed. "The Spider" slipped punches as if it were part of a choreographed dance and struck with violent precision whenever he saw even the slightest opening.

After two lackluster title defenses at middleweight, Silva used the move up in weight classes to show that, when he cares to be, he's still the most dominant fighter in the sport.

In the night's co-main event, UFC lightweight champ B.J. Penn retained his title with a fourth-round submission victory, forcing challenger Kenny Florian to tap out due to a rear naked choke after a mostly one-sided affair. Penn wobbled Florian with his heavy right hand early on in the fight, but spent much of the next three rounds getting pressed against the fence as Florian fought to stay either in the clinch or out of punching range.

The tide turned for good when Penn stopped simply avoiding takedowns and went for one of his own. The champion easily scooped Florian up for a double-leg takedown and then controlled the action on the mat before eventually taking Florian's back and sinking in the choke.

"When I woke up this morning, I thought, 'I've been at this thing a long time; what the hell am I doing? Then I realized this is my dream since I was a kid," said an elated Penn.

In other action from the Wachovia Center...

•Aaron Riley got his revenge for an early stoppage that added an erroneous loss to his record at UFC 96, soundly beating Shane Nelson in the rematch via unanimous decision.

•"Ultimate Fighter" winner Amir Sadollah might have been the victim of an early stoppage himself, as former Oklahoma State wrestling champ Johny Hendricks dropped him with a series of uppercuts less than minute into the fight, causing referee Dan Miragliotta to call a stop to the bout at just 29 seconds of the first round.

•Jiu-jitsu ace Ricardo Almeida outworked Kendall Grove for three rounds, using takedowns and ground control to earn a unanimous decision victory.

•Kurt Pellegrino put his wrestling skills to good use as he frustrated Miletich fighter Josh Neer from start to finish, repeatedly slamming the Iowa fighter to the mat en route to a unanimous decision.

•John Howard picked up his second straight victory in the UFC, outpointing welterweight prospect Tamdan McCrory on two of the three judges scorecards.

•Italian middleweight Alessio Sakara made a triumphant return to action after nearly a year away from the cage, earning a split decision victory over Thales Leites.

•Matt Riddle continued his climb up the ranks with a unanimous decision victory over Dan Cramer.

•George Sotiropoulos put his sharp ground game on display, submitting George Roop with a kimura armlock at 1:59 of round two.

•Jesse Lennox escaped with a TKO victory over Danillo Villefort due to a cut at 3:37 of round three.